+ A sermon given for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (Year B) at Fullness of God Lutheran Church, Holden Village, WA on February 4, 2018 +
Texts: Isaiah 40:21-31, Mark 1:29-39
Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
I remember the first time I ventured up this valley – three years ago for a J-Term class with my seminary.
Somehow after a most of a lifetime living as a Lutheran in the Pacific Northwest, with parents who had visited the Village many times dating back to their college days, and as someone has sung Holden Evening Prayer as long as I can remember, it took going to seminary in Chicago to finally get me to the Village.
And until that point, whenever I had to shamefully admit that I had never been here, the reactions were all the same: “Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told to you since the beginning? How have you never been to Holden?”
When the time finally arrived, I eagerly gazed out the windows of that old school bus as we made our way up the valley and the majesty unfolded before me.
Especially after a couple years in the flat Midwest, the sight of the mountains, the trees, and the flowing creek reconnected me to a vision of God’s glory that I had been sorely missing in Chicago.
It was as if I was remembering how the beauty of the creation that now surrounded me showed me of the beauty of God.
It’s a similar feeling that I get when I stand on the ocean shore and glimpse the vastness of the life-sustaining waters that cover this earth.
Or when I study astronomy and ponder the enormity and beauty of the universe.
It’s a sense of peering into the beauty of a God who created all these things and by beholding the majesty of the whole creation having the chance to peer into God’s own self.
And it’s a humbling experience too – when I solo hike to Hart Lake and find myself surrounded by high mountains and countless trees and unseen critters, I recognize myself as a mere interloper, nothing more than a minor disturbance in a squirrel’s day.
When I compare myself to the great Pacific Ocean, I feel as small as an individual pebble on the beach.
When I gaze into the night sky and try to count the multitude of stars and imagine the planets that orbit them and the innumerable galaxies with their own sets of billions of stars and planets, it can be hard to not feel absolutely insignificant compared to the immensity of it all.
And yet, in our first reading from Isaiah, we hear the Prophet’s assurance that the Creator of the universe, the molder of the Earth, the carver of the mountains does not stand distant from us, but loves us deeply.
This God who stretches out the heavens like a curtain chooses to care about what is happening in our lives and in our world.
Isaiah was writing to comfort his people living in exile – a people who were beginning to wonder if their God was powerful enough to overcome their Babylonian captors.
The Prophet reminds the exiled nation that their hope is in their God who created all things.
That the God of Israel does not remain secluded and remote but constantly works in and among the people, raises up prophets and leaders to guide them, and moves in the community to inspire visions of a new reality of God’s perfect design.
The Prophet’s words speak again to us this evening – a reminder of the hope that we have in our God.
The same God that created the heavens and the earth cares deeply for what happens in this world and in our lives.
When tyrants rule their people unjustly bringing fear, discrimination, and warfare, our God comes into our communities to offer refuge and an alternate vision for God’s perfect reign of love and peace.
When the demons of this world cause us as individuals to doubt whether we are enough – good enough, beautiful enough, rich enough, smart enough – our God comes to offer assurance and renew our strength.
When we feel so utterly beaten down by the tormentors of this world that devalue us because of our gender or orientation, our language or skin color, the shape of our body, or physical or mental illness, or whatever else, our God names us again as God’s beloved, and lifts us up like an eagle to regain our God-given value.
What is so amazing to me is that the same God that created the cosmos also crafted you together and is crazy about you.
The same God that slung atoms into being also knit you together and adores you beyond imagining for exactly who you are.
The same God who brought all things into being has come again to this place to call you by name and declare again to the universe that you are God’s own beloved child.
We see a beautiful example of this in the healing story we have heard in Mark’s Gospel.
We find Jesus in Capernaum preaching and teaching and then we witness this remarkable of healing.
He comes into the home of his disciples Simon and Andrew and finds Simon’s mother-in-law.
We really know so little about this woman that we don’t even know her name. But we can make some educated guesses about her – she’s a widow, which is why she’s living with her daughter and his husband.
As a woman she is surely looked down on by this culture and as a woman whose husband has died, she has almost no societal value. And she is laying down sick with a fever – quite possibly close to death.
And in walks Jesus who reaches out his hand and lifts her up, healing her of the fever.
In a society that discounts her as worthless, Jesus comes to be with her.
In a culture that looks down on her, Christ gazes into her eyes with love and compassion.
In a patriarchal structure that can’t even be bothered to record her name, the very same hand that created the universe reaches out to her, lifts her up, and proclaims her as beloved by God.
And she responds the only way she can – she rises and she serves.
Not because she was a woman, no matter the gender roles at play.
Not because that is a woman’s place in the home, despite what centuries of Church tradition would have you believe.
She rises to serve because that is what a follower of Christ is called to do.
She responds to this gift of life and love by sharing that life and love to those around her in service – just as Christ calls us each to do.
She models for us what Christian discipleship looks like – using the life and love she has received from Jesus to spread God’s love in the world.
When the world dismissed her, Jesus saw her and loved her.
And even though society assumed she would never be anything, she became the bearer of Christ’s love and the minister of that love to her neighbors.
Jesus healed her from her fever, yes, but also from the lies that tormented her and told her she was worthless by giving this woman the most significant of roles – the chance to bear and spread the same creative and redeeming love that spun the cosmos into being.
And by serving, she was united into the mission and ministry of Christ.
Where has this world brought you low?
How has this world beat you down?
What gives you doubt about your own self-worth, your humanity?
When have you been told you’re wrong or broken or not enough?
It can be in these times where we doubt the work of God – where we yearn for God to be active in our lives.
It can be these times when we need healing the most that we wonder if that healing will ever come.
But despite all of this, Christ comes to each of us to reach out his hand of healing and love.
We may not see him face to face but can feel Christ in the embrace of a loved one, the presence of a friend, or the kindness of a stranger.
And we can be sure that Christ is here and God is active in our lives.
Because the Creator of the rivers and lakes, the icecaps and the oceans uses the waters of your baptism to claim you and proclaim to the cosmos that you are God’s beloved child, a person of immeasurable significance.
The same God that created all the plants and vegetation that has ever been chooses to come among us again in the bread and cup we will share to reunite us into the Body of Christ that is at work in the world.
The One who fashioned humanity in the image of God gathers us together into community so we can experience that same love of Christ in each other as we serve one another as agents of God’s healing life.
And our God raises us from our doubts and torments and calls us to use this gift we have been given to follow in Christ’s example to share the love that brings us life as we serve our neighbors and the whole creation.
The mighty God that Isaiah proclaims to us and who chose to put on flesh in the person of Jesus never tires of the work – the sustaining of the universe, the strengthening of the weak and downtrodden, and the lifting up of the lowly.
Sometimes it can be hard to see where our God is working in our world, but most often we can look at the actions of those around us – those reaching out in love and healing, caring and sacrifice, ministry and service – and see the face of God.
And we can look at ourselves, insignificant though we may sometimes feel, and see where God is yearning to work through us.
Have you not seen? Have you not heard? The Creator and sustainer of the universe does not grow weary and does not stay secluded, but continues to work in our world, moving in and among our community, dwelling in our bodies, spreading God’s healing and redeeming love to all creation.